The mailbox illusion in public policy

There’s the impression that public policy is like a mailbox from which we send important messages and in which we receive a lot of junk mail.

Have you noticed, though, just how mismatched curb-side, free-standing mailboxes can be compared to the houses that stand behind them in the US? The mailbox is weathered, flaked or chipped, even rusting, while the house behind is more cared for, even grand-looking sometimes. But once inside those houses, anything goes! They’re even more interesting indoors: bric-a-brac, cluttered, sometimes all straight lines, always layer on layer.

In other words, we have misleading mailboxes in front of misleading facades to insides whose diversity no one can really see from outside-in. That is, contrary to the illusion of policies as mailboxes, the policies we send and receive scarcely reflect all the busy, domestic life of the palimpsests they really are.

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